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    x0x You could be in Asia Minor Paul Mansfield trips through Istanbul The Telegraph THE first question you find yourself asking about Istanbul is whether it s
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2002
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      x0x You could be in Asia Minor

      Paul Mansfield trips through Istanbul

      The Telegraph

      THE first question you find yourself asking about Istanbul is
      whether it's East or West. Beneath the westernised veneer - latest
      model cars, a new tram system, consumer goods piled high in shops -
      lies an older, more traditional city. You glimpse it in little
      things: a man selling roasted chestnuts on a street corner; a
      teenage boy pushing a huge stack of boxes on a trolley through the
      streets. Duck behind the well-groomed streets of Sultanahmet,
      Istanbul's most historic area and the heart of its tourist industry,
      and suddenly you're in what might be some small town in Asia Minor.
      Old men sit outside cafes with nargileh pipes; small shops sell
      everything from nuts and bolts to second-hand clothes. There's the
      constant hum of activity, the hive-like atmosphere of all Asian
      cities. But there's no hassle. "I expected to be bothered all the
      time," confessed my wife. "But it's just not happening."

      On our first night we headed to the rooftop terrace at the Hotel
      Ambassador, with stunning views out over the Blue Mosque. The food
      was excellent - succulent balls of cheese in filo pastry, good
      grilled fish, an egg course with spicy peppers - but it all arrived
      at once, brought up in the tiny lift from the basement kitchen. As
      we waded through the torrent of food, amused and endeared, the
      muezzin started up from the Mosque opposite, summoning the faithful
      to prayer. Hearing it for the first time - the eerie call and
      response between minarets, the nasal drone hanging in the cool night
      air - is enough to send shivers down your spine. In Istanbul you can
      never forget you're in a Moslem country.

      To make the best of the city you need a good guide. Ours was Cengiz
      Kellekci, who spoke pacy, Americanised English. He steered us round
      the usual, exquisite sights: the Blue Mosque, calm and airy, with
      the faithful washing outside before prayers. Agia Sofia, for a
      thousand years the largest enclosed space in the world: vast,
      shadowy, all-dominating - awe-inspiring in a way few sacred
      buildings truly are.

      Lunch was at the Sultan Pub, a chic establishment where black-clad
      waiters hurried to and fro with pizzas and beer, and country and
      western drawled from the sound system. Soon, though, C&W was
      replaced by mournful Turkish music. "In Turkey we may look modern,"
      said Cengiz, "but underneath we're still traditional - and
      sentimental."

      In the afternoon we went shopping - normally a tricky moment for
      both of us. In short, my wife loves it and it bores me rigid. But
      this was different. We wandered through the Grand Bazaar, full of
      gleaming precious metal, carpets and leatherwear, but ended up
      outside, at an extraordinary shop called Punto. Here, suave, sombre-
      suited men seated us while their minions unfurled rugs, explaining
      each according to its history, design and region.

      To my amazement, I became engrossed in what we were seeing. We left
      with an exquisite rug, which is the most expensive domestic item we
      have ever bought - and it was me, not my wife, who carried it
      proudly.

      Sunday lunch was at the Topkapi Palace, at a humble cafeteria with
      one of the best views in the world, of a silvery Bosphorus criss-
      crossed by tankers and tiny ferries. We visited the Harem, perhaps
      the most intriguing symbol of male-female relations in Turkey's
      history.

      Here the Sultans enjoyed absolute power over their courtiers and
      hundreds of wives - but the influence of the Sultan's first wife and
      mother was enormous. "Difficult to say who exactly had the upper
      hand," said Cengiz.

      Then the Cemberlitas hamam; the 16th-century bath house designed by
      the legendary Turkish architect Sinan. A walrus-moustachioed, pot-
      bellied man pounded my back, wrenched my neck from side to side then
      chucked a bucket of cold water over me and propelled me through the
      door of the baths. I limped across the reception area feeling - and
      looking - like someone who has just gone the distance with Hulk
      Hogan. My wife, who had been cosseted and soothed in the women's
      section, looked relaxed and radiant as she sipped an orange juice.
      On this occasion it was all too clear who had the upper hand.


      Report filed: 27/04/2002
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